This when he had endured a year and more, Now wholly changed from what he was before, It happen'd once, that, slumbering as he lay, He dream'd (his dream began at break of day) That Hermes o'er his head in air appear'd, And with soft words his drooping spirits cheer'd: His hat, adorn'd with wings, disclosed the god, And in his hand he bore the sleep-compelling rod: 550 Such as he seem'd, when, at his sire's command, On Argus' head he laid the snaky wand. Arise, he said, to conquering Athens go, There fate appoints an end to all thy woe. The fright awaken'd Arcite with a start, Against his bosom bounced his heaving heart; But soon he said, with scarce-recover'd breath, And thither will I go, to meet my death. Sure to be slain; but death is my desire, Since in Emilia's sight I shall expire. 560 By chance he spied a mirror while he spoke, And gazing there, beheld his alter'd look; Wondering, he saw his features and his hue So much were changed, that scarce himself he knew. A sudden thought then starting in his mind, Since I in Arcite cannot Arcite find, The world may search in vain with all their eyes, But never penetrate through this disguise. Thanks to the change which grief and sickness give, In low estate I may securely live, 570 And see unknown my mistress day by day. He said; and clothed himself in coarse array: A labouring hind in show; then forth he went, And to the Athenian towers his journey bent: One squire attended in the same disguise, Made conscious of his master's enterprise. Arrived at Athens, soon he came to court, Unknown, unquestion'd in that thick resort: Proffering for hire his service at the gate, To drudge, draw water, and to run or wait. 580
So fair befell him, that for little gain He served at first Emilia's chamberlain; And, watchful all advantages to spy, Was still at hand, and in his master's eye; And as his bones were big, and sinews strong, Refused no toil that could to slaves belong; But from deep wells with engines water drew, And used his noble hands the wood to hew. He pass'd a year at least attending thus On Emily, and call'd Philostratus. 590 But never was there man of his degree So much esteem'd, so well beloved as he. So gentle of condition was he known, That through the court his courtesy was blown: All think him worthy of a greater place, And recommend him to the royal grace; That, exercised within a higher sphere, His virtues more conspicuous might appear. Thus by the general voice was Arcite praised, And by great Theseus to high favour raised; 600 Among his menial servants first enroll'd, And largely entertain'd with sums of gold: Besides what secretly from Thebes was sent, Of his own income, and his annual rent: This well employ'd, he purchased friends and fame, But cautiously conceal'd from whence it came. Thus for three years he lived with large increase, In arms of honour, and esteem in peace; To Theseus' person he was ever near; And Theseus for his virtues held him dear. 610
While Arcite lives in bliss, the story turns Where hopeless Palamon in prison mourns. For six long years immured, the captive knight Had dragg'd his chains, and scarcely seen the light: Lost liberty and love at once he bore: His prison pain'd him much, his passion more: Nor dares he hope his fetters to remove, Nor ever wishes to be free from love.
But when the sixth revolving year was run, And May within the Twins received the sun, 10 Were it by chance, or forceful destiny, Which forms in causes first whate'er shall be, Assisted by a friend, one moonless night, This Palamon from prison took his flight: A pleasant beverage he prepared before Of wine and honey, mix'd with added store Of opium; to his keeper this he brought, Who swallow'd unaware the sleepy draught, And snored secure till morn, his senses bound In slumber, and in long oblivion drown'd. 20 Short was the night, and careful Palamon Sought the next covert e'er the rising sun. A thick-spread forest near the city lay, To this with lengthen'd strides he took his way, (For far he could not fly, and fear'd the day). Safe from pursuit, he meant to shun the light, Till the brown shadows of the friendly night To Thebes might favour his intended flight. When to his country come, his next design Was all the Theban race in arms to join, 30 And war on Theseus, till he lost his life, Or won the beauteous Emily to wife.
Thus while his thoughts the lingering day beguile, To gentle Arcite let us turn our style; Who little dreamt how nigh he was to care, Till treacherous fortune caught him in the snare. The morning lark, the messenger of day, Saluted in her song the morning gray; And soon the sun arose with beams so bright, That all the horizon laugh'd to see the joyous sight: 40 He with his tepid rays the rose renews, And licks the drooping leaves, and dries the dews; When Arcite left his bed, resolved to pay Observance to the month of merry May: Forth on his fiery steed betimes he rode, That scarcely prints the turf on which he trode: At ease he seem'd, and, prancing o'er the plains, Turn'd only to the grove his horse's reins, The grove I named before; and, lighted there, A woodbine garland sought to crown his hair; 50 Then turn'd his face against the rising day, And raised his voice to welcome in the May.
For thee, sweet month! the groves green liveries wear, If not the first, the fairest of the year: For thee the Graces lead the dancing hours, And Nature's ready pencil paints the flowers: When thy short reign is past, the feverish sun The sultry tropic fears, and moves more slowly on. So may thy tender blossoms fear no blight, Nor goats with venom'd teeth thy tendrils bite, 60 As thou shalt guide my wandering feet to find The fragrant greens I seek, my brows to bind.
His vows address'd, within the grove he stray'd, Till Fate, or Fortune, near the place convey'd His steps where, secret, Palamon was laid. Full little thought of him the gentle knight, Who, flying death, had there conceal'd his flight, In brakes and brambles hid, and shunning mortal sight: And less he knew him for his hated foe, But fear'd him as a man he did not know. 70 But as it has been said of ancient years, That fields are full of eyes, and woods have ears; For this the wise are ever on their guard, For, unforeseen, they say, is unprepared. Uncautious Arcite thought himself alone, And less than all suspected Palamon, Who, listening, heard him, while he search'd the grove, And loudly sung his roundelay of love: But on the sudden stopp'd, and silent stood, As lovers often muse, and change their mood; 80 Now high as heaven, and then as low as hell; Now up, now down, as buckets in a well: For Venus, like her day, will change her cheer, And seldom shall we see a Friday clear. Thus Arcite having sung, with alter'd hue Sunk on the ground, and from his bosom drew A desperate sigh, accusing Heaven and Fate, And angry Juno's unrelenting hate. Cursed be the day when first I did appear; Let it be blotted from the calendar, 90 Lest it pollute the month, and poison all the year! Still will the jealous queen pursue our race? Cadmus is dead, the Theban city was: Yet ceases not her hate: for all who come From Cadmus are involved in Cadmus' doom. I suffer for my blood: unjust decree! That punishes another's crime on me. In mean estate I serve my mortal foe, The man who caused my country's overthrow. This is not all; for Juno, to my shame, 100 Has forced me to forsake my former name; Arcite I was, Philostratus I am. That side of heaven is all my enemy: Mars ruin'd Thebes: his mother ruin'd me. Of all the royal race remains but one Besides myself, the unhappy Palamon, Whom Theseus holds in bonds, and will not free; Without a crime, except his kin to me. Yet these, and all the rest, I could endure; But love's a malady without a cure: 110 Fierce love has pierced me with his fiery dart; He fires within, and hisses at my heart. Your eyes, fair Emily, my fate pursue; I suffer for the rest, I die for you! Of such a goddess no time leaves record, Who burn'd the temple where she was adored: And let it burn, I never will complain, Pleased with my sufferings, if you knew my pain.
At this a sickly qualm his heart assail'd, His ears ring inward, and his senses fail'd. 120 No word miss'd Palamon of all he spoke, But soon to deadly pale he changed his look: He trembled every limb, and felt a smart, As if cold steel had glided through his heart; No longer staid, but starting from his place, Discover'd stood, and show'd his hostile face: False traitor, Arcite! traitor to thy blood! Bound by thy sacred oath to seek my good, Now art thou found forsworn, for Emily; And darest attempt her love, for whom I die. 130 So hast thou cheated Theseus with a wile, Against thy vow, returning to beguile Under a borrow'd name: as false to me, So false thou art to him who set thee free. But rest assured, that either thou shalt die, Or else renounce thy claim in Emily: For though unarm'd I am, and (freed by chance) Am here without my sword, or pointed lance, Hope not, base man, unquestioned hence to go, For I am Palamon, thy mortal foe. 140
Arcite, who heard his tale, and knew the man, His sword unsheath'd, and fiercely thus began: Now by the gods who govern heaven above, Wert thou not weak with hunger, mad with love, That word had been thy last, or in this grove This hand should force thee to renounce thy love. The surety which I gave thee, I defy: Fool, not to know that love endures no tie, And Jove but laughs at lovers' perjury. Know I will serve the fair in thy despite; 150 But since thou art my kinsman, and a knight, Here, have my faith, to-morrow in this grove Our arms shall plead the titles of our love: And Heaven so help my right, as I alone Will come, and keep the cause and quarrel both unknown; With arms of proof both for myself and thee; Choose thou the best, and leave the worst to me. And, that at better ease thou may'st abide, Bedding and clothes I will this night provide, And needful sustenance, that thou may'st be 160 A conquest better won, and worthy me. His promise Palamon accepts; but pray'd To keep it better than the first he made. Thus fair they parted till the morrow's dawn, For each had laid his plighted faith to pawn.
Oh, Love! thou sternly dost thy power maintain, And wilt not bear a rival in thy reign; Tyrants and thou all fellowship disdain! This was in Arcite proved, and Palamon, Both in despair, yet each would love alone. 170 Arcite return'd, and, as in honour tied, His foe with bedding, and with food supplied; Then, ere the day, two suits of armour sought, Which, borne before him on his steed, he brought: Both were of shining steel, and wrought so pure, As might the strokes of two such arms endure. Now, at the time, and in the appointed place, The challenger and challenged, face to face, Approach; each other from afar they knew, And from afar their hatred changed their hue. 180 So stands the Thracian herdsman with his spear, Pull in the gap, and hopes the hunted bear, And hears him rustling in the wood, and sees His course at distance by the bending trees; And thinks, Here comes my mortal enemy, And either he must fall in fight, or I: This while he thinks, he lifts aloft his dart; A generous chilness seizes every part: The veins pour back the blood, and fortify the heart.
Thus pale they meet; their eyes with fury burn; 190 None greets; for none the greeting will return: But in dumb surliness, each arm'd with care His foe profess'd, as brother of the war: Then both, no moment lost, at once advance Against each other, arm'd with sword and lance: They lash, they foin, they pass, they strive to bore Their corslets and the thinnest parts explore. Thus two long hours in equal arms they stood, And wounded, wound, till both were bathed in blood; And not a foot of ground had either got, 200 As if the world depended on the spot. Fell Arcite like an angry tiger fared, And like a lion Palamon appear'd: Or, as two boars, whom love to battle draws, With rising bristles, and with frothy jaws, Their adverse breasts with tusks oblique they wound; With grunts and groans the forest rings around. So fought the knights, and fighting must abide, Till fate an umpire sends their difference to decide.
The power that ministers to God's decrees, 210 And executes on earth what Heaven foresees, Call'd providence, or chance, or fatal sway, Comes with resistless force, and finds or makes her way. Nor kings, nor nations, nor united power, One moment can retard the appointed hour; And some one day, some wondrous chance appears, Which happen'd not in centuries of years: For sure, whate'er we mortals hate, or love, Or hope, or fear, depends on Powers above; They move our appetites to good or ill, 220 And by foresight necessitate the will. In Theseus this appears; whose youthful joy Was beasts of chase in forests to destroy: This gentle knight, inspired by jolly May, Forsook his easy couch at early day, And to the wood and wilds pursued his way. Beside him rode Hippolita the queen, And Emily attired in lively green, With horns, and hounds, and all the tuneful cry, To hunt a royal hart within the covert nigh: 230 And as he follow'd Mars before, so now He serves the goddess of the silver bow. The way that Theseus took was to the wood Where the two knights in cruel battle stood: The lawn on which they fought, the appointed place In which the uncoupled hounds began the chase. Thither forth-right he rode to rouse the prey, That, shaded by the fern, in harbour lay; And thence dislodged, was wont to leave the wood For open fields, and cross the crystal flood. 240 Approach'd, and looking underneath the sun, He saw proud Arcite, and fierce Palamon, In mortal battle doubling blow on blow, Like lightning flamed their falchions to and fro, And shot a dreadful gleam; so strong they strook, There seem'd less force required to fell an oak: He gazed with wonder on their equal might, Look'd eager on, but knew not either knight: Resolved to learn, he spurr'd his fiery steed With goring rowels to provoke his speed. 250 The minute ended that began the race, So soon he was betwixt them on the place; And, with his sword unsheath'd, on pain of life Commands both combatants to cease their strife: Then with imperious tone pursues his threat: What are you? why in arms together met? How dares your pride presume against my laws, As in a listed field to fight your cause? Unask'd the royal grant; no marshal by, As knightly rites require; nor judge to try? 260 Then Palamon, with scarce recover'd breath, Thus hasty spoke: We both deserve the death, And both would die; for look the world around, A pair so wretched is not to be found; Our life's a load; encumber'd with the charge, We long to set the imprison'd soul at large. Now, as thou art a sovereign judge, decree The rightful doom of death to him and me; Let neither find thy grace, for grace is cruelty. Me first, oh, kill me first, and cure my woe; 270 Then sheath the sword of justice on my foe: Or kill him first; for when his name is heard, He foremost will receive his due reward. Arcite of Thebes is he; thy mortal foe: On whom thy grace did liberty bestow, But first contracted, that if ever found By day or night upon the Athenian ground, His head should pay the forfeit; see return'd The perjured knight, his oath and honour scorn'd. For this is he, who, with a borrow'd name 280 And proffer'd service, to thy palace came, Now call'd Philostratus: retain'd by thee, A traitor trusted, and in high degree, Aspiring to the bed of beauteous Emily. My part remains; from Thebes my birth I own, And call myself the unhappy Palamon. Think me not like that man; since no disgrace Can force me to renounce the honour of my race. Know me for what I am: I broke my chain, Nor promised I thy prisoner to remain: 290 The love of liberty with life is given, And life itself the inferior gift of Heaven. Thus without crime I fled; but further know, I, with this Arcite, am thy mortal foe: Then give me death, since I thy life pursue; For safeguard of thyself, death is my due. More would'st thou know? I love bright Emily, And, for her sake, and in her sight will die: But kill my rival too; for he no less Deserves; and I thy righteous doom will bless, 300 Assured that what I lose, he never shall possess.
To this replied the stern Athenian prince, And sourly smiled: In owning your offence You judge yourself; and I but keep record In place of law, while you pronounce the word. Take your desert, the death you have decreed; I seal your doom, and ratify the deed: By Mars, the patron of my arms, you die!
He said; dumb sorrow seized the standers-by. The queen above the rest, by nature good, 310 (The pattern form'd of perfect womanhood) For tender pity wept: when she began, Through the bright quire the infectious virtue ran. All dropt their tears, even the contended maid; And thus among themselves they softly said: What eyes can suffer this unworthy sight! Two youths of royal blood, renown'd in fight, The mastership of Heaven in face and mind, And lovers, far beyond their faithless kind: See their wide streaming wounds; they neither came 300 For pride of empire, nor desire of fame: Kings fight for kingdoms, madmen for applause; But love for love alone; that crowns the lover's cause. This thought, which ever bribes the beauteous kind, Such pity wrought in every lady's mind, They left their steeds, and, prostrate on the place, From the fierce king implored the offenders' grace.
He paused a while, stood silent in his mood (For yet his rage was boiling in his blood); But soon his tender mind the impression felt, 330 (As softest metals are not slow to melt, And pity soonest runs in softest minds): Then reasons with himself; and first he finds His passion cast a mist before his sense, And either made, or magnified the offence. Offence! of what? to whom? who judged the cause? The prisoner freed himself by nature's laws: Born free, he sought his right: the man he freed Was perjured, but his love excused the deed. Thus pondering, he look'd under with his eyes, 340 And saw the women's tears, and heard their cries; Which moved compassion more; he shook his head, And, softly sighing, to himself he said: Curse on the unpardoning prince, whom tears can draw To no remorse; who rules by lions' law; And deaf to prayers, by no submission bow'd, Rends all alike; the penitent, and proud! At this, with look serene, he raised his head; Reason resumed her place, and passion fled: Then thus aloud he spoke: The power of love, 350 In earth, and seas, and air, and heaven above, Rules, unresisted, with an awful nod; By daily miracles declared a god: He blinds the wise, gives eyesight to the blind; And moulds and stamps anew the lover's mind. Behold that Arcite, and this Palamon, Freed from my fetters, and in safety gone, What hinder'd either in their native soil At ease to reap the harvest of their toil? But Love, their lord, did otherwise ordain, 360 And brought them in their own despite again, To suffer death deserved; for well they know, 'Tis in my power, and I their deadly foe. The proverb holds, that to be wise and love, Is hardly granted to the gods above. See how the madmen bleed! behold the gains With which their master, Love, rewards their pains! For seven long years, on duty every day, Lo, their obedience, and their monarch's pay: Yet, as in duty bound, they serve him on; 370 And, ask the fools, they think it wisely done; Nor ease, nor wealth, nor life itself regard, For 'tis their maxim, Love is love's reward. This is not all; the fair, for whom they strove, Nor knew before, nor could suspect their love; Nor thought, when she beheld the sight from far, Her beauty was the occasion of the war. But sure a general doom on man is past, And all are fools and lovers, first or last: This both by others and myself I know, 380 For I have served their sovereign long ago; Oft have been caught within the winding train Of female snares, and felt the lover's pain, And learn'd how far the god can human hearts constrain. To this remembrance, and the prayers of those Who for the offending warriors interpose, I give their forfeit lives; on this accord, To do me homage as their sovereign lord; And, as my vassals, to their utmost might, Assist my person, and assert my right. 390
This freely sworn, the knights their grace obtain'd; Then thus the king his secret thoughts explain'd: If wealth, or honour, or a royal race, Or each, or all, may win a lady's grace, Then either of you knights may well deserve A princess born; and such is she you serve: For Emily is sister to the crown, And but too well to both her beauty known: But should you combat till you both were dead, Two lovers cannot share a single bed: 400 As, therefore, both are equal in degree, The lot of both be left to destiny. Now hear the award, and happy may it prove To her, and him who best deserves her love. Depart from hence in peace, and, free as air, Search the wide world, and where you please repair; But on the day when this returning sun To the same point through every sign has run, Then each of you his hundred knights shall bring, In royal lists, to fight before the king; 410 And then the knight, whom fate or happy chance Shall with his friends to victory advance, And grace his arms so far in equal fight, From out the bars to force his opposite, Or kill, or make him recreant on the plain, The prize of valour and of love shall gain; The vanquish'd party shall their claim release, And the long jars conclude in lasting peace. The charge be mine to adorn the chosen ground, The theatre of war, for champions so renown'd; 420 And take the patron's place of either knight, With eyes impartial to behold the fight; And Heaven of me so judge as I shall judge aright. If both are satisfied with this accord, Swear by the laws of knighthood on my sword.
Who now but Palamon exults with joy? And ravish'd Arcite seems to touch the sky: The whole assembled troop was pleased as well, Extol the award, and on their knees they fell To bless the gracious king. The knights, with leave, 430 Departing from the place, his last commands receive; On Emily with equal ardour look, And from her eyes their inspiration took. From thence to Thebes' old walls pursue their way, Each to provide his champions for the day.
It might be deem'd, on our historian's part, Or too much negligence, or want of art, If he forgot the vast magnificence Of royal Theseus, and his large expense, He first enclosed for lists a level ground, 440 The whole circumference a mile around; The form was circular; and all without A trench was sunk, to moat the place about. Within an amphitheatre appear'd, Raised in degrees; to sixty paces rear'd: That when a man was placed in one degree, Height was allow'd for him above to see.
Eastward was built a gate of marble white; The like adorn'd the western opposite. A nobler object than this fabric was, 450 Rome never saw; nor of so vast a space. For rich with spoils of many a conquer'd land, All arts and artists Theseus could command; Who sold for hire, or wrought for better fame; The master-painters, and the carvers came. So rose within the compass of the year An age's work, a glorious theatre. Then o'er its eastern gate was raised above A temple, sacred to the Queen of Love; An altar stood below: on either hand 460 A priest with roses crown'd, who held a myrtle wand.
The dome of Mars was on the gate opposed, And on the north a turret was enclosed, Within the wall, of alabaster white, And crimson coral, for the Queen of Night, Who takes in sylvan sports her chaste delight.
Within these oratories might you see Rich carvings, portraitures, and imagery: Where every figure to the life express'd The godhead's power to whom it was address'd. 470 In Venus' temple on the sides were seen The broken slumbers of enamour'd men; Prayers that even spoke, and pity seem'd to call, And issuing sighs that smoked along the wall; Complaints, and hot desires, the lover's hell, And scalding tears that wore a channel where they fell: And all around were nuptial bonds, the ties, Of love's assurance, and a train of lies, That, made in lust, conclude in perjuries. Beauty, and Youth, and Wealth, and Luxury, 480 And spritely Hope, and short-enduring Joy; And Sorceries to raise the infernal powers, And Sigils framed in planetary hours: Expense, and After-Thought, and idle Care, And Doubts of motley hue, and dark Despair; Suspicious, and fantastical Surmise, And Jealousy suffused, with jaundice in her eyes, Discolouring all she view'd, in tawny dress'd, Down-look'd, and with a cuckoo on her fist. Opposed to her, on the other side advance 490 The costly feast, the carol, and the dance, Minstrels and Music, Poetry and Play, And balls by night, and tournaments by day. All these were painted on the wall, and more; With acts and monuments of times before: And others added by prophetic doom, And lovers yet unborn, and loves to come: For there the Idalian mount, and Citheron, The court of Venus, was in colours drawn: Before the palace-gate, in careless dress, 500 And loose array, sat portress Idleness: There, by the fount, Narcissus pined alone; There Samson was; with wiser Solomon, And all the mighty names by love undone. Medea's charms were there, Circean feasts, With bowls that turn'd enamour'd youths to beasts: Here might be seen, that beauty, wealth, and wit, And prowess, to the power of love submit: The spreading snare for all mankind is laid; And lovers all betray, and are betray'd. 510 The goddess self some noble hand had wrought; Smiling she seem'd, and full of pleasing thought: From ocean as she first began to rise, And smooth'd the ruffled seas and clear'd the skies; She trode the brine, all bare below the breast, And the green waves but ill conceal'd the rest; A lute she held; and on her head was seen A wreath of roses red, and myrtles green; Her turtles fann'd the buxom air above; And, by his mother, stood an infant Love, 520 With wings unfledged; his eyes were banded o'er; His hands a bow, his back a quiver bore, Supplied with arrows bright and keen, a deadly store.
But in the dome of mighty Mars the red With different figures all the sides were spread; This temple, less in form, with equal grace, Was imitative of the first in Thrace: For that cold region was the loved abode And sovereign mansion of the warrior god. The landscape was a forest wide and bare; 530 Where neither beast, nor human kind repair; The fowl, that scent afar, the borders fly, And shun the bitter blast, and wheel about the sky. A cake of scurf lies baking on the ground, And prickly stubs, instead of trees, are found; Or woods, with knots and knares, deform'd and old; Headless the most, and hideous to behold: A rattling tempest through the branches went, That stripp'd them bare, and one sole way they bent. Heaven froze above, severe, the clouds congeal, 540 And through the crystal vault appear'd the standing hail. Such was the face without; a mountain stood Threatening from high, and overlook'd the wood: Beneath the lowering brow, and on a bent, The temple stood of Mars armipotent: The frame of burnish'd steel, that cast a glare From far, and seem'd to thaw the freezing air. A strait long entry to the temple led, Blind with high walls; and horror over head: Thence issued such a blast, and hollow roar, 550 As threaten'd from the hinge to heave the door: In through that door, a northern light there shone; 'Twas all it had, for windows there were none. The gate was adamant; eternal frame! Which, hew'd by Mars himself, from Indian quarries came, The labour of a god; and all along Tough iron plates were clench'd to make it strong. A tun about was every pillar there; A polish'd mirror shone not half so clear. There saw I how the secret felon wrought, 560 And treason labouring in the traitor's thought; And midwife Time the ripen'd plot to murder brought. There the red Anger dared the pallid Fear; Next stood Hypocrisy, with holy leer, Soft smiling, and demurely looking down, But hid the dagger underneath the gown: The assassinating wife, the household fiend; And far the blackest there, the traitor-friend. On the other side, there stood Destruction bare; Unpunish'd Rapine, and a waste of War. 570 Contest, with sharpen'd knives, in cloisters drawn, And all with blood bespread the holy lawn. Loud menaces were heard, and foul disgrace, And bawling infamy, in language base; Till sense was lost in sound, and silence fled the place. The slayer of himself yet saw I there, The gore congeal'd was clotted in his hair; With eyes half closed, and gaping mouth he lay, And grim, as when he breathed his sullen soul away. In midst of all the dome, Misfortune sate, 580 And gloomy Discontent, and fell Debate, And Madness laughing in his ireful mood; And arm'd complaint on theft; and cries of blood. There was the murder'd corpse in covert laid, And violent death in thousand shapes display'd: The city to the soldiers rage resigned: Successless wars, and poverty behind: Ships burnt in fight, or forced on rocky shores, And the rash hunter strangled by the boars: The new-born babe by nurses overlaid; 590 And the cook caught within the raging fire he made. All ills of Mars his nature, flame and steel; The gasping charioteer, beneath the wheel Of his own car; the ruin'd house that falls And intercepts her lord betwixt the walls: The whole division that to Mars pertains, All trades of death that deal in steel for gains, Were there: the butcher, armourer, and smith, Whose forges sharpen'd falchions, or the scythe. The scarlet conquest on a tower was placed, 600 With shouts, and soldiers' acclamations graced: A pointed sword hung threatening o'er his head, Sustain'd but by a slender twine of thread. There saw I Mars his ides, the Capitol, The seer in vain foretelling Caesar's fall; The last triumvirs, and the wars they move, And Antony, who lost the world for love. These, and a thousand more, the fane adorn; Their fates were painted ere the men were born, All copied from the heavens, and ruling force 610 Of the red star, in his revolving course. The form of Mars high on a chariot stood, All sheath'd in arms, and gruffly look'd the god: Two geomantic figures were display'd Above his head, a warrior and a maid, One when direct, and one when retrograde.
Tired with deformities of death, I haste To the third temple of Diana chaste. A sylvan scene with various greens was drawn, Shades on the sides, and in the midst a lawn: 620 The silver Cynthia, with her nymphs around, Pursued the flying deer, the woods with horns resound: Calisto there stood manifest of shame, And, turn'd a bear, the northern star became: Her son was next, and, by peculiar grace, In the cold circle held the second place: The stag Acteon in the stream had spied The naked huntress, and, for seeing, died: His hounds, unknowing of his change pursue The chase, and their mistaken master slew. 630 Peneian Daphne too was there to see, Apollo's love before, and now his tree: The adjoining fane the assembled Greeks express'd, And hunting of the Caledonian beast. Oenides' valour, and his envied prize; The fatal power of Atalanta's eyes; Diana's vengeance on the victor shown, The murderess mother; and consuming son; The Volscian queen extended on the plain; The treason punish'd, and the traitor slain. 640 The rest were various huntings, well design'd, And savage beasts destroy'd, of every kind. The graceful goddess was array'd in green; About her feet were little beagles seen, That watch'd with upward eyes the motions of their queen. Her legs were buskin'd, and the left before, In act to shoot; a silver bow she bore, And at her back a painted quiver wore. She trod a waxing moon, that soon would wane, And, drinking borrow'd light, be fill'd again: 650 With downcast eyes, as seeming to survey The dark dominions, her alternate sway. Before her stood a women in her throes, And call'd Lucina's aid, her burden to disclose. All these the painter drew with such command, That Nature snatch'd the pencil from his hand, Ashamed and angry that his art could feign And mend the tortures of a mother's pain. Theseus beheld the fanes of every god, And thought his mighty cost was well bestow'd. 660 So princes now their poets should regard; But few can write, and fewer can reward.
The theatre thus raised, the lists enclosed, And all with vast magnificence disposed, We leave the monarch pleased, and haste to bring The knights to combat, and their arms to sing.
The day approach'd when Fortune should decide The important enterprise, and give the bride; For now, the rivals round the world had sought, And each his number, well appointed, brought. The nations, far and near, contend in choice, And send the flower of war by public voice; That after, or before, were never known Such chiefs, as each an army seem'd alone: Beside the champions, all of high degree, Who knighthood loved, and deeds of chivalry, 10 Throng'd to the lists, and envied to behold The names of others, not their own, enroll'd. Nor seems it strange; for every noble knight Who loves the fair, and is endued with might, In such a quarrel would be proud to fight. There breathes not scarce a man on British ground (An isle for love and arms of old renown'd) But would have sold his life to purchase fame, To Palamon or Arcite sent his name: And had the land selected of the best, 20 Half had come hence, and let the world provide the rest. A hundred knights with Palamon there came, Approved in fight, and men of mighty name; Their arms were several, as their nations were, But furnish'd all alike with sword and spear. Some wore coat-armour, imitating scale; And next their skins were stubborn shirts of mail. Some wore a breastplate and a light jupon, Their horses clothed with rich caparison: Some for defence would leathern bucklers use, 30 Of folded hides; and others shields of pruce. One hung a pole-axe at his saddle-bow, And one a heavy mace to stun the foe; One for his legs and knees provided well, With jambeaux arm'd, and double plates of steel: This on his helmet wore a lady's glove, And that a sleeve embroider'd by his love.
With Palamon above the rest in place, Lycurgus came, the surly king of Thrace; Black was his beard, and manly was his face; 40 The balls of his broad eyes roll'd in his head, And glared betwixt a yellow and a red: He look'd a lion with a gloomy stare, And o'er his eyebrows hung his matted hair: Big-boned, and large of limbs, with sinews strong, Broad-shoulder'd, and his arms were round and long. Four milk-white bulls (the Thracian use of old) Were yoked to draw his car of burnish'd gold. Upright he stood, and bore aloft his shield, Conspicuous from afar, and overlook'd the field. 50 His surcoat was a bear-skin on his back; His hair hung long behind, and glossy raven black. His ample forehead bore a coronet, With sparkling diamonds and with rubies set: Ten brace, and more, of greyhounds, snowy fair, And tall as stags, ran loose, and coursed around his chair, A match for pards in flight, in grappling for the bear: With golden muzzles all their mouths were bound, And collars of the same their necks surround. Thus through the fields Lycurgus took his way; 60 His hundred knights attend in pomp and proud array.
To match this monarch, with strong Arcite came Emetrius, king of Ind, a mighty name; On a bay courser, goodly to behold, The trappings of his horse adorn'd with barbarous gold. Not Mars bestrod a steed with greater grace; His surcoat o'er his arms was cloth of Thrace, Adorn'd with pearls, all orient, round, and great; His saddle was of gold, with emeralds set, His shoulders large a mantle did attire, 70 With rubies thick, and sparkling as the fire: His amber-colour'd locks in ringlets run, With graceful negligence, and shone against the sun. His nose was aquiline, his eyes were blue; Ruddy his lips, and fresh and fair his hue: Some sprinkled freckles on his face were seen, Whose dusk set off the whiteness of the skill: His awful presence did the crowd surprise, Nor durst the rash spectator meet his eyes; Eyes that confess'd him born for kingly sway, 80 So fierce, they flash'd intolerable day. His age in nature's youthful prime appear'd, And just began to bloom his yellow beard. Whene'er he spoke, his voice was heard around, Loud as a trumpet, with a silver sound; A laurel wreathed his temples, fresh and green; And myrtle sprigs, the marks of love, were mix'd between. Upon his fist he bore, for his delight, An eagle well reclaim'd, and lily white.
His hundred knights attend him to the war, 90 All arm'd for battle; save their heads were bare. Words and devices blazed on every shield, And pleasing was the terror of the field. For kings, and dukes, and barons, you might see, Like sparkling stars, though different in degree, All for the increase of arms, and love of chivalry. Before the king tame leopards led the way, And troops of lions innocently play. So Bacchus through the conquer'd Indies rode, And beasts in gambols frisk'd before their honest god. 100
In this array, the war of either side Through Athens pass'd with military pride. At prime, they enter'd on the Sunday morn; Rich tapestry spread the streets, and flowers the posts adorn. The town was all a jubilee of feasts; So Theseus will'd, in honour of his guests; Himself with open arms the kings embraced, Then all the rest in their degrees were graced. No harbinger was needful for the night, For every house was proud to lodge a knight. 110
I pass the royal treat, nor must relate The gifts bestow'd, nor how the champions sate: Who first, who last, or how the knights address'd Their vows, or who was fairest at the feast; Whose voice, whose graceful dance did most surprise; Soft amorous sighs, and silent love of eyes. The rivals call my Muse another way, To sing their vigils for the ensuing day.
'Twas ebbing darkness, past the noon of night: And Phosphor, on the confines of the light, 120 Promised the sun; ere day began to spring, The tuneful lark already stretch'd her wing, And flickering on her nest, made short essays to sing. When wakeful Palamon, preventing day, Took to the royal lists his early way, To Venus at her fane, in her own house, to pray. There, falling on his knees before her shrine, He thus implored with prayers her power divine:
Creator Venus, genial power of love, The bliss of men below, and gods above! 130 Beneath the sliding sun thou runn'st thy race, Dost fairest shine, and best become thy place. For thee the winds their eastern blasts forbear, Thy month reveals the spring, and opens all the year. Thee, goddess! thee the storms of winter fly, Earth smiles with flowers renewing, laughs the sky, And birds to lays of love their tuneful notes apply. For thee the lion loathes the taste of blood, And, roaring, hunts his female through the wood: For thee the bulls rebellow through the groves, 140 And tempt the stream, and snuff their absent loves. 'Tis thine, whate'er is pleasant, good, or fair: All nature is thy province, life thy care: Thou madest the world, and dost the world repair. Thou gladder of the mount of Cytheron, Increase of Jove, companion of the sun! If e'er Adonis touch'd thy tender heart, Have pity, goddess, for thou know'st the smart! Alas! I have not words to tell my grief; To vent my sorrow would be some relief; 150 Light sufferings give us leisure to complain; We groan, but cannot speak, in greater pain. O goddess! tell thyself what I would say, Thou know'st it, and I feel too much to pray. So grant my suit, as I enforce my might, In love to be thy champion, and thy knight; A servant to thy sex, a slave to thee, A foe profess'd to barren chastity. Nor ask I fame or honour of the field, Nor choose I more to vanquish than to yield: 160 In my divine Emilia make me blest; Let Fate, or partial Chance, dispose the rest: Find thou the manner, and the means prepare; Possession, more than conquest, is my care. Mars is the warrior's god; in him it lies, On whom he favours to confer the prize; With smiling aspect you serenely move In your fifth orb, and rule the realm of love. The Fates but only spin the coarser clue, The finest of the wool is left for you; 170 Spare me but one small portion of the twine, And let the sisters cut below your line: The rest among the rubbish may they sweep, Or add it to the yarn of some old miser's heap. But, if you this ambitious prayer deny, (A wish, I grant, beyond mortality,) Then let me sink beneath proud Arcite's arms, And I once dead, let him possess her charms.
Thus ended he; then with observance due The sacred incense on her altar threw: 180 The curling smoke mounts heavy from the fires; At length it catches flame, and in a blaze expires; At once the gracious goddess gave the sign, Her statue shook, and trembled all the shrine: Pleased Palamon the tardy omen took: For, since the flames pursued the trailing smoke, He knew his boon was granted; but the day To distance driven, and joy adjourn'd with long delay.
Now morn with rosy light had streak'd the sky, Up rose the sun, and up rose Emily; 190 Address'd her early steps to Cynthia's fane, In state attended by her maiden train, Who bore the vests that holy rites require, Incense, and odorous gums, and cover'd fire. The plenteous horns with pleasant mead they crown, Nor wanted aught besides in honour of the Moon. Now while the temple smoked with hallow'd steam, They wash the virgin in a living stream; The secret ceremonies I conceal, Uncouth, perhaps unlawful, to reveal: 200 But such they were as Pagan use required, Perform'd by women when the men retired, Whose eyes profane their chaste mysterious rites Might turn to scandal, or obscene delights. Well-meaners think no harm; but for the rest, Things sacred they pervert, and silence is the best. Her shining hair, uncomb'd, was loosely spread, A crown of mastless oak adorn'd her head: When to the shrine approach'd, the spotless maid Had kindling fires on either altar laid: 210 (The rites were such as were observed of old, By Statius in his Theban story told.) Then kneeling with her hands across her breast, Thus lowly she preferr'd her chaste request: Oh, goddess, haunter of the woodland green, To whom both heaven and earth and seas are seen; Queen of the nether skies, where half the year Thy silver beams descend, and light the gloomy sphere! Goddess of maids, and conscious of our hearts, So keep me from the vengeance of thy darts, 220 Which Niobe's devoted issue felt, When hissing through the skies the feather'd deaths were dealt; As I desire to live a virgin life, Nor know the name of mother or of wife. Thy votress from my tender years I am, And love, like thee, the woods and sylvan game. Like death, thou know'st, I loathe the nuptial state, And man, the tyrant of our sex, I hate, A lowly servant, but a lofty mate: Where love is duty on the female side; 230 On theirs, mere sensual gust, and sought with surly pride. Now by thy triple shape, as thou art seen In heaven, earth, hell, and everywhere a queen, Grant this my first desire; let discord cease, And make betwixt the rivals lasting peace: Quench their hot fire, or far from me remove The flame, and turn it on some other love; Or, if my frowning stars have so decreed, That one must be rejected, one succeed, Make him my lord, within whose faithful breast 240 Is fix'd my image, and who loves me best. But, oh! even that avert! I choose it not, But take it as the least unhappy lot. A maid I am, and of thy virgin train; Oh, let me still that spotless name retain! Frequent the forests, thy chaste will obey, And only make the beasts of chase my prey!
The flames ascend on either altar clear, While thus the blameless maid address'd her prayer. When, lo! the burning fire that shone so bright, 250 Flew off all sudden, with extinguish'd light, And left one altar dark, a little space; Which turn'd self-kindled, and renew'd the blaze: The other victor-flame a moment stood, Then fell, and lifeless left the extinguish'd wood; For ever lost, the irrevocable light Forsook the blackening coals, and sunk to night: At either end it whistled as it flew, And as the brands were green, so dropp'd the dew; Infected as it fell with sweat of sanguine hue. 260
The maid from that ill omen turn'd her eyes, And with loud shrieks and clamours rent the skies, Nor knew what signified the boding sign, But found the Powers displeased, and fear'd the wrath divine.
Then shook the sacred shrine, and sudden light Sprung through the vaulted roof, and made the temple bright.
The Power, behold! the Power in glory shone, By her bent bow, and her keen arrows known; The rest, a huntress issuing from the wood, Reclining on her cornel spear she stood. 270 Then gracious thus began: Dismiss thy fear, And Heaven's unchanged decrees attentive hear: More powerful gods have torn thee from my side, Unwilling to resign, and doom'd a bride: The two contending knights are weigh'd above; One Mars protects, and one the Queen of Love: But which the man, is in the Thunderer's breast; This he pronounced, 'Tis he who loves thee best. The fire that, once extinct, revived again, Foreshows the love allotted to remain: 280 Farewell! she said, and vanish'd from the place; The sheaf of arrows shook, and rattled in the case. Aghast at this, the royal virgin stood, Disclaim'd, and now no more a sister of the wood: But to the parting goddess thus she pray'd: Propitious still be present to my aid, Nor quite abandon your once favour'd maid. Then sighing she return'd; but smiled betwixt, With hopes and fears, and joys with sorrows mix'd.
The next returning planetary hour 290 Of Mars, who shared the heptarchy of power, His steps bold Arcite to the temple bent, To adore with Pagan rites the power armipotent: Then prostrate, low before his altar lay, And raised his manly voice, and thus began to pray:
Strong God of arms, whose iron sceptre sways The freezing North, and Hyperborean seas, And Scythian colds, and Thracia's wintry coast, Where stand thy steeds, and thou art honour'd most! There most; but everywhere thy power is known, 300 The fortune of the fight is all thy own: Terror is thine, and wild amazement, flung From out thy chariot, withers even the strong: And disarray and shameful rout ensue, And force is added to the fainting crew. Acknowledged as thou art, accept my prayer, If aught I have achieved deserve thy care: If to my utmost power, with sword and shield, I dared the death, unknowing how to yield, And falling in my rank, still kept the field: 310 Then let my arms prevail, by thee sustain'd, That Emily by conquest may be gain'd. Have pity on my pains; nor those unknown To Mars, which, when a lover, were his own. Venus, the public care of all above, Thy stubborn heart has soften'd into love: Now, by her blandishments and powerful charms, When yielded she lay curling in thy arms, Even by thy shame, if shame it may be call'd, When Vulcan had thee in his net enthrall'd; 320 (Oh, envied ignominy, sweet disgrace, When every god that saw thee wish'd thy place!) By those dear pleasures, aid my arms in fight, And make me conquer in my patron's right: For I am young, a novice in the trade, The fool of love, unpractised to persuade: And want the soothing arts that catch the fair, But, caught myself, lie struggling in the snare: And she I love, or laughs at all my pain, Or knows her worth too well; and pays me with disdain. 330 For sure I am, unless I win in arms, To stand excluded from Emilia's charms: Nor can my strength avail, unless by thee Endued with force, I gain the victory! Then for the fire which warm'd thy generous heart, Pity thy subject's pains, and equal smart. So be the morrow's sweat and labour mine, The palm and honour of the conquest thine: Then shall the war, and stern debate, and strife Immortal, be the business of my life; 340 And in thy fane, the dusty spoils among, High on the burnish'd roof, my banner shall be hung: Rank'd with my champions' bucklers, and below, With arms reversed, the achievements of my foe: And while these limbs the vital spirit feeds, While day to night, and night to day succeeds, Thy smoking altar shall be fat with food Of incense, and the grateful steam of blood; Burnt-offerings morn and evening shall be thine; And fires eternal in thy temple shine. 350 The bush of yellow beard, this length of hair, Which from my birth inviolate I bear, Guiltless of steel, and from the razor free, Shall fall a plenteous crop, reserved for thee. So may my arms with victory be blest, I ask no more; let Fate dispose the rest.
The champion ceased; there follow'd in the close A hollow groan: a murmuring wind arose; The rings of iron, that on the doors were hung, Sent out a jarring sound, and harshly rung: 360 The bolted gates flew open at the blast, The storm rush'd in, and Arcite stood aghast: The flames were blown aside, yet shone they bright, Fann'd by the wind, and gave a ruffled light. Then from the ground a scent began to rise, Sweet smelling, as accepted sacrifice: This omen pleased, and as the flames aspire With odorous incense Arcite heaps the fire: Nor wanted hymns to Mars, or heathen charms: At length the nodding statue clash'd his arms, 370 And with a sullen sound and feeble cry, Half sunk, and half pronounced the word of victory. For this, with soul devout, he thank'd the god, And, of success secure, return'd to his abode.
These vows thus granted, raised a strife above, Betwixt the God of War and Queen of Love. She, granting first, had right of time to plead; But he had granted too, nor would recede. Jove was for Venus; but he fear'd his wife, And seem'd unwilling to decide the strife; 380 Till Saturn from his leaden throne arose, And found a way the difference to compose: Though sparing of his grace, to mischief bent, He seldom does a good with good intent. Wayward, but wise; by long experience taught, To please both parties, for ill ends, he sought: For this advantage age from youth has won, As not to be outridden, though outrun. By fortune he was now to Venus trined, And with stern Mars in Capricorn was join'd: 390 Of him disposing in his own abode, He soothed the goddess, while he gull'd the god: Cease, daughter, to complain, and stint the strife; Thy Palamon shall have his promised wife: And Mars, the lord of conquest, in the fight With palm and laurel shall adorn his knight. Wide is my course, nor turn I to my place, Till length of time, and move with tardy pace. Man feels me, when I press the ethereal plains, My hand is heavy, and the wound remains. 400 Mine is the shipwreck, in a watery sign; And in an earthy, the dark dungeon mine. Cold shivering agues, melancholy care, And bitter blasting winds, and poison'd air, Are mine, and wilful death, resulting from despair. The throttling quinsey 'tis my star appoints, And rheumatisms ascend to rack the joints: When churls rebel against their native prince, I arm their hands, and furnish the pretence; And housing in the lion's hateful sign, 410 Bought senates, and deserting troops are mine. Mine is the privy poisoning; I command Unkindly seasons, and ungrateful land. By me kings' palaces are push'd to ground. And miners crush'd beneath their mines are found. 'Twas I slew Samson, when the pillar'd hall Fell down, and crush'd the many with the fall. My looking is the sire of pestilence, That sweeps at once the people and the prince. Now weep no more, but trust thy grandsire's art, 420 Mars shall be pleased, and thou perform thy part. 'Tis ill, though different your complexions are, The family of heaven for men should war. The expedient pleased, where neither lost his right; Mars had the day, and Venus had the night. The management they left to Chronos' care; Now turn we to the effect, and sing the war.
In Athens all was pleasure, mirth, and play, All proper to the spring, and spritely May: Which every soul inspired with such delight, 430 'Twas jesting all the day, and love at night. Heaven smiled, and gladded was the heart of man; And Venus had the world as when it first began. At length in sleep their bodies they compose, And dreamt the future fight, and early rose.
Now scarce the dawning day began to spring, As at a signal given, the streets with clamours ring: At once the crowd arose; confused and high, Even from the heaven, was heard a shouting cry; For Mars was early up, and roused the sky. 440 The gods came downward to behold the wars, Sharpening their sights, and leaning from their stars. The neighing of the generous horse was heard, For battle by the busy groom prepared: Rustling of harness, rattling of the shield, Clattering of armour, furbish'd for the field. Crowds to the castle mounted up the street, Battering the pavement with their coursers' feet: The greedy sight might there devour the gold Of glittering arms, too dazzling to behold: 450 And polish'd steel, that cast the view aside, And crested morions, with their plumy pride. Knights, with a long retinue of their squires, In gaudy liveries march, and quaint attires. One laced the helm, another held the lance: A third the shining buckler did advance. The courser paw'd the ground with restless feet, And snorting foam'd, and champ'd the golden bit. The smiths and armourers on palfreys ride, Files in their hands, and hammers at their side, 460 And nails for loosen'd spears, and thongs for shields provide. The yeomen guard the streets, in seemly bands; And clowns come crowding on, with cudgels in their hands.
The trumpets, next the gate, in order placed, Attend the sign to sound the martial blast; The palace-yard is fill'd with floating tides, And the last comers bear the former to the sides. The throng is in the midst: the common crew Shut out, the hall admits the better few; In knots they stand, or in a rank they walk, 470 Serious in aspect, earnest in their talk; Factious, and favouring this or the other side, As their strong fancy or weak reason guide: Their wagers back their wishes; numbers hold With the fair freckled king, and beard of gold: So vigorous are his eyes, such rays they cast, So prominent his eagle's beak is placed. But most their looks on the black monarch bend, His rising muscles, and his brawn commend; His double-biting axe, and beamy spear, 480 Each asking a gigantic force to rear. All spoke as partial favour moved the mind; And, safe themselves, at others' cost divined.
Waked by the cries, the Athenian chief arose, The knightly forms of combat to dispose; And passing through the obsequious guards, he sate Conspicuous on a throne, sublime in state; There, for the two contending knights he sent; Arm'd cap-a-pie, with reverence low they bent; He smiled on both, and with superior look 490 Alike their offer'd adoration took. The people press on every side to see Their awful prince, and hear his high decree. Then signing to their heralds with his hand, They gave his orders from their lofty stand. Silence is thrice enjoin'd; then thus aloud The king-at-arms bespeaks the knights and listening crowd:
Our sovereign lord has ponder'd in his mind The means to spare the blood of gentle kind; And of his grace, and inborn clemency, 500 He modifies his first severe decree! The keener edge of battle to rebate, The troops for honour fighting, not for hate: He wills, not death should terminate their strife, And wounds, if wounds ensue, be short of life: But issues, ere the fight, his dread command, That slings afar, and poniards hand to hand, Be banish'd from the field; that none shall dare With shorten'd sword to stab in closer war; But in fair combat fight with manly strength, 510 Nor push with biting point, but strike at length; The tourney is allow'd but one career, Of the tough ash, with the sharp-grinded spear; But knights unhorsed may rise from off the plain, And fight on foot their honour to regain; Nor, if at mischief taken, on the ground Be slain, but prisoners to the pillar bound, At either barrier placed; nor (captives made), Be freed, or arm'd anew the fight invade. The chief of either side, bereft of life, 520 Or yielded to his foe, concludes the strife. Thus dooms the lord: now, valiant knights and young, Fight each his fill with swords and maces long.
The herald ends: the vaulted firmament With loud acclaims and vast applause is rent: Heaven guard a prince so gracious and so good, So just, and yet so provident of blood! This was the general cry. The trumpets sound, And warlike symphony is heard around. The marching troops through Athens take their way, 530 The great earl-marshal orders their array. The fair from high the passing pomp behold; A rain of flowers is from the windows roll'd. The casements are with golden tissue spread, And horses' hoofs, for earth, on silken tapestry tread. The king goes midmost, and the rivals ride In equal rank, and close his either side. Next after these, there rode the royal wife, With Emily, the cause, and the reward of strife. The following cavalcade, by three and three, 540 Proceed by titles marshall'd in degree. Thus through the southern gate they take their way, And at the list arrived ere prime of day. There, parting from the king, the chiefs divide, And wheeling east and west, before their many ride. The Athenian monarch mounts his throne on high, And after him the queen and Emily: Next these, the kindred of the crown are graced With nearer seats, and lords by ladies placed. Scarce were they seated, when with clamours loud 550 In rush'd at once a rude promiscuous crowd; The guards, and then each other overbear, And in a moment throng the spacious theatre. Now changed the jarring noise to whispers low, As winds forsaking seas more softly blow; When at the western gate, on which the car Is placed aloft, that bears the god of war, Proud Arcite entering arm'd before his train, Stops at the barrier, and divides the plain. Red was his banner, and display'd abroad 560 The bloody colours of his patron god.
At that self moment enters Palamon The gate of Venus, and the rising Sun; Waved by the wanton winds, his banner flies, All maiden white, and shares the people's eyes. From east to west, look all the world around, Two troops so match'd were never to be found; Such bodies built for strength, of equal age, In stature sized; so proud in equipage: The nicest eye could no distinction make, 570 Where lay the advantage, or what side to take.
Thus ranged, the herald for the last proclaims A silence, while they answer'd to their names: For so the king decreed, to shun the care, The fraud of musters false, the common bane of war. The tale was just, and then the gates were closed; And chief to chief, and troop to troop opposed. The heralds last retired, and loudly cried— The fortune of the field be fairly tried!
At this, the challenger with fierce defy 580 His trumpet sounds; the challenged makes reply; With clangour rings the field, resounds the vaulted sky. Their vizors closed, their lances in the rest, Or at the helmet pointed, or the crest, They vanish from the barrier, speed the race, And spurring see decrease the middle space. A cloud of smoke envelops either host, And all at once the combatants are lost: Darkling they join adverse, and shock unseen, Coursers with coursers jostling, men with men: 590 As labouring in eclipse, a while they stay, Till the next blast of wind restores the day. They look anew: the beauteous form of fight Is changed, and war appears a grisly sight. Two troops in fair array one moment show'd, The next, a field with fallen bodies strow'd: Not half the number in their seats are found; But men and steeds lie grovelling on the ground. The points of spears are stuck within the shield, The steeds without their riders scour the field. 600 The knights, unhorsed, on foot renew the fight; The glittering falchions cast a gleaming light: Hauberks and helms are hew'd with many a wound, Out spins the streaming blood and dyes the ground. The mighty maces with such haste descend, They break the bones, and make the solid armour bend. This thrusts amid the throng with furious force; Down goes, at once, the horseman and the horse: That courser stumbles on the fallen steed, And floundering throws the rider o'er his head. 610 One rolls along, a foot-ball to his foes; One with a broken truncheon deals his blows. This halting, this disabled with his wound, In triumph led, is to the pillar bound, Where by the king's award he must abide: There goes a captive led on the other side. By fits they cease; and leaning on the lance, Take breath a while, and to new fight advance.
Full oft the rivals met, and neither spared His utmost force, and each forgot to ward. 620 The head of this was to the saddle bent, The other backward to the crupper sent: Both were by turns unhorsed; the jealous blows Fall thick and heavy, when on foot they close. So deep their falchions bite, that every stroke Pierced to the quick; and equal wounds they gave and took. Borne far asunder by the tides of men, Like adamant and steel they meet again.
So when a tiger sucks the bullock's blood, A famish'd lion issuing from the wood 630 Roars lordly fierce, and challenges the food: Each claims possession, neither will obey, But both their paws are fasten'd on the prey; They bite, they tear; and while in vain they strive, The swains come arm'd between, and both to distance drive.
At length, as Fate foredoom'd, and all things tend By course of time to their appointed end; So when the sun to west was far declined, And both afresh in mortal battle join'd, The strong Emetrius came in Arcite's aid, 640 And Palamon with odds was overlaid: For turning short, he struck with all his might Full on the helmet of the unwary knight. Deep was the wound; he stagger'd with the blow, And turn'd him to his unexpected foe; Whom with such force he struck, he fell'd him down, And cleft the circle of his golden crown. But Arcite's men, who now prevail'd in fight, Twice ten at once surround the single knight: O'erpower'd, at length, they force him to the ground, 650 Unyielded as he was, and to the pillar bound; And King Lycurgus, while he fought in vain His friend to free, was tumbled on the plain.
Who now laments but Palamon, compell'd No more to try the fortune of the field! And, worse than death, to view with hateful eyes His rival's conquest, and renounce the prize!
The royal judge, on his tribunal placed, Who had beheld the fight from first to last, Bade cease the war; pronouncing from on high, 660 Arcite of Thebes had won the beauteous Emily. The sound of trumpets to the voice replied, And round the royal lists the heralds cried, Arcite of Thebes has won the beauteous bride!
The people rend the skies with vast applause; All own the chief, when Fortune owns the cause. Arcite is own'd even by the gods above, And conquering Mars insults the Queen of Love. So laugh'd he, when the rightful Titan fail'd, And Jove's usurping arms in heaven prevail'd. 670 Laugh'd all the powers who favour tyranny; And all the standing army of the sky. But Venus with dejected eyes appears, And, weeping on the lists, distill'd her tears; Her will refused, which grieves a woman most, And, in her champion foil'd, the cause of Love is lost. Till Saturn said, Fair daughter, now be still, The blustering fool has satisfied his will; His boon is given; his knight has gain'd the day, But lost the prize; the arrears are yet to pay; 680 Thy hour is come, and mine the care shall be To please thy knight, and set thy promise free.
Now while the heralds run the lists around, And Arcite! Arcite! heaven and earth resound; A miracle (nor less it could be call'd) Their joy with unexpected sorrow pall'd. The victor knight had laid his helm aside, Part for his ease, the greater part for pride; Bare-headed, popularly low he bow'd, And paid the salutations of the crowd. 690 Then spurring at full speed, ran endlong on Where Theseus sate on his imperial throne; Furious he drove, and upward cast his eye, Where, next the queen, was placed his Emily; Then passing, to the saddle-bow he bent: A sweet regard the gracious virgin lent; (For women, to the brave an easy prey, Still follow Fortune where she leads the way): Just then, from earth sprung out a flashing fire, By Pluto sent, at Saturn's bad desire: 700 The startling steed was seized with sudden fright, And, bounding, o'er the pommel cast the knight: Forward he flew, and pitching on his head, He quiver'd with his feet, and lay for dead. Black was his countenance in a little space, For all the blood was gather'd in his face. Help was at hand: they rear'd him from the ground, And from his cumbrous arms his limbs unbound; Then lanced a vein, and watch'd returning breath; It came, but clogg'd with symptoms of his death. 710 The saddle-bow the noble parts had press'd, All bruised and mortified his manly breast. Him still entranced, and in a litter laid, They bore from field, and to his bed convey'd. At length he waked, and with a feeble cry, The word he first pronounced was "Emily."
Mean time the king, though inwardly he mourn'd, In pomp triumphant to the town return'd, Attended by the chiefs, who fought the field; (Now friendly mix'd, and in one troop compell'd.) 720 Composed his looks to counterfeited cheer, And bade them not for Arcite's life to fear. But that which gladded all the warrior train, Though most were sorely wounded, none were slain. The surgeons soon despoil'd them of their arms, And some with salves they cure, and some with charms; Foment the bruises, and the pains assuage, And heal their inward hurts with sovereign draughts of sage. The king in person visits all around, Comforts the sick, congratulates the sound; 730 Honours the princely chiefs, rewards the rest, And holds for thrice three days a royal feast. None was disgraced; for falling is no shame; And cowardice alone is loss of fame. The venturous knight is from the saddle thrown; But 'tis the fault of Fortune, not his own, If crowds and palms the conquering side adorn, The victor under better stars was born: The brave man seeks not popular applause, Nor, overpower'd with arms, deserts his cause; 740 Unshamed, though foil'd, he does the best he can; Force is of brutes, but honour is of man.
Thus Theseus smiled on all with equal grace, And each was set according to his place; With ease were reconciled the differing parts, For envy never dwells in noble hearts. At length they took their leave, the time expired, Well pleased, and to their several homes retired.
Mean while the health of Arcite still impairs; From bad proceeds to worse, and mocks the leech's cares 750 Swoln is his breast; his inward pains increase, All means are used, and all without success. The clotted blood lies heavy on his heart, Corrupts, and there remains, in spite of art: Nor breathing veins, nor cupping will prevail; All outward remedies and inward fail: The mould of nature's fabric is destroy'd, Her vessels discomposed, her virtue void; The bellows of his lungs begin to swell: All out of frame is every secret cell, 760 Nor can the good receive, nor bad expel. Those breathing organs thus within oppress'd, With venom soon distend the sinews of his breast. Nought profits him to save abandon'd life, Nor vomit's upward aid, nor downward laxative. The midmost region batter'd and destroy'd, When nature cannot work, the effect of art is void. For physic can but mend our crazy state, Patch an old building, not a new create. Arcite is doom'd to die in all his pride, 770 Must leave his youth, and yield his beauteous bride, Gain'd hardly, against right, and unenjoy'd. When 'twas declared all hope of life was past, Conscience (that of all physic works the last) Caused him to send for Emily in haste. With her, at his desire, came Palamon; Then on his pillow raised, he thus begun:
No language can express the smallest part Of what I feel, and suffer in my heart For you, whom best I love and value most; 780 But to your service I bequeath my ghost; Which from this mortal body when untied, Unseen, unheard, shall hover at your side; Nor fright you waking, nor your sleep offend, But wait officious, and your steps attend: How I have loved, excuse my faltering tongue, My spirit's feeble, and my pains are strong: This I may say, I only grieve to die, Because I lose my charming Emily: To die, when Heaven had put you in my power, 790 Fate could not choose a more malicious hour! What greater curse could envious Fortune give, Than just to die, when I began to live? Vain men! how vanishing a bliss we crave, Now warm in love, now withering in the grave! Never, oh never more to see the sun! Still dark, in a damp vault, and still alone! This fate is common; but I lose my breath; Near bliss, and yet not bless'd before my death. Farewell; but take me dying in your arms, 800 'Tis all I can enjoy of all your charms: This hand I cannot but in death resign; Ah! could I live! but while I live 'tis mine. I feel my end approach, and thus embraced, Am pleased to die; but hear me speak my last: Ah! my sweet foe, for you, and you alone, I broke my faith with injured Palamon. But love the sense of right and wrong confounds, Strong love and proud ambition have no bounds. And much I doubt, should Heaven my life prolong, 810 I should return to justify my wrong: For while my former flames remain within, Repentance is but want of power to sin. With mortal hatred I pursued his life, Nor he, nor you, were guilty of the strife; Nor I, but as I loved; yet all combined, Your beauty, and my impotence of mind; And his concurrent flame that blew my fire; For still our kindred souls had one desire. He had a moment's right in point of time; 820 Had I seen first, then his had been the crime. Fate made it mine, and justified his right; Nor holds this earth a more deserving knight, For virtue, valour, and for noble blood, Truth, honour, all that is comprised in good; So help me Heaven, in all the world is none So worthy to be loved as Palamon. He loves you too, with such an holy fire, As will not, cannot, but with life expire: Our vow'd affections both have often tried, 830 Nor any love but yours could ours divide. Then, by my love's inviolable band, By my long suffering, and my short command, If e'er you plight your vows when I am gone, Have pity on the faithful Palamon.
This was his last; for Death came on amain, And exercised below his iron reign; Then upward to the seat of life he goes: Sense fled before him, what he touch'd he froze: Yet could he not his closing eyes withdraw, 840 Though less and less of Emily he saw; So, speechless, for a little space he lay; Then grasp'd the hand he held, and sigh'd his soul away.
But whither went his soul, let such relate Who search the secrets of the future state: Divines can say but what themselves believe; Strong proofs they have, but not demonstrative: For, were all plain, then all sides must agree, And faith itself be lost in certainty. To live uprightly, then, is sure the best, 850 To save ourselves, and not to damn the rest. The soul of Arcite went where heathens go, Who better live than we, though less they know.
In Palamon a manly grief appears; Silent, he wept, ashamed to show his tears: Emilia shriek'd but once, and then, oppress'd With sorrow, sunk upon her lover's breast: Till Theseus in his arms convey'd with care, Far from so sad a sight, the swooning fair. 'Twere loss of time her sorrow to relate; 860 Ill bears the sex a youthful lover's fate, When just approaching to the nuptial state. But like a low-hung cloud, it rains so fast, That all at once it falls, and cannot last. The face of things is changed, and Athens now, That laugh'd so late, becomes the scene of woe: Matrons and maids, both sexes, every state, With tears lament the knight's untimely fate. Nor greater grief in falling Troy was seen For Hector's death; but Hector was not then, 870 Old men with dust deform'd their hoary hair, The women beat their breasts, their cheeks they tear. Why wouldst thou go, with one consent they cry, When thou hadst gold enough, and Emily?
Theseus himself, who should have cheer'd the grief Of others, wanted now the same relief; Old Egeus only could revive his son, Who various changes of the world had known, And strange vicissitudes of human fate, Still altering, never in a steady state; 880 Good after ill, and, after pain, delight, Alternate like the scenes of day and night: Since every man who lives, is born to die, And none can boast sincere felicity, With equal mind, what happens, let us bear, Nor joy, nor grieve too much for things beyond our care. Like pilgrims to the appointed place we tend; The world's an inn, and death the journey's end. Even kings but play; and when their part is done, Some other, worse or better, mount the throne. 890 With words like these the crowd was satisfied, And so they would have been, had Theseus died. But he, their king, was labouring in his mind, A fitting place for funeral pomps to find, Which were in honour of the dead design'd. And after long debate, at last he found (As love itself had mark'd the spot of ground) That grove for ever green, that conscious laund, Where he with Palamon fought hand to hand: That where he fed his amorous desires 900 With soft complaints, and felt his hottest fires; There other flames might waste his earthly part, And burn his limbs, where love had burn'd his heart.
This once resolved, the peasants were enjoin'd Sere-wood, and firs, and dodder'd oaks to find. With sounding axes to the grove they go, Fell, split, and lay the fuel on a row, Vulcanian food: a bier is next prepared, On which the lifeless body should be rear'd, Cover'd with cloth of gold, on which was laid 910 The corpse of Arcite, in like robes array'd. White gloves were on his hands, and on his head A wreath of laurel, mix'd with myrtle spread. A sword keen-edged within his right he held, The warlike emblem of the conquer'd field: Bare was his manly visage on the bier: Menaced his countenance; even in death severe. Then to the palace-hall they bore the knight, To lie in solemn state, a public sight. Groans, cries, and howlings fill the crowded place, 920 And unaffected sorrow sate on every face. Sad Palamon above the rest appears, In sable garments, dew'd with gushing tears: His auburn locks on either shoulder flow'd, Which to the funeral of his friend he vow'd: But Emily, as chief, was next his side, A virgin-widow, and a mourning bride. And that the princely obsequies might be Perform'd according to his high degree, The steed, that bore him living to the fight, 930 Was trapp'd with polish'd steel, all shining bright, And cover'd with the achievements of the knight. The riders rode abreast, and one his shield, His lance of cornel-wood another held; The third his bow, and, glorious to behold, The costly quiver, all of burnish'd gold. The noblest of the Grecians next appear, And, weeping, on their shoulders bore the bier; With sober pace they march'd, and often stay'd, And through the master-street the corpse convey'd. 940 The houses to their tops with black were spread, And even the pavements were with mourning hid. The right side of the pall old Egeus kept, And on the left the royal Theseus wept; Each bore a golden bowl, of work divine, With honey fill'd, and milk, and mix'd with ruddy wine. Then Palamon, the kinsman of the slain, And after him appear'd the illustrious train. To grace the pomp, came Emily the bright, With cover'd fire, the funeral pile to light. 950 With high devotion was the service made, And all the rites of Pagan honour paid: So lofty was the pile, a Parthian bow, With vigour drawn, must send the shaft below. The bottom was full twenty fathom broad, With crackling straw beneath in due proportion strew'd. The fabric seem'd a wood of rising green, With sulphur and bitumen cast between, To feed the flames: the trees were unctuous fir, And mountain-ash, the mother of the spear; 960 The mourner-yew, and builder oak were there; The beech, the swimming alder, and the plane, Hard box, and linden of a softer grain, And laurels, which the gods for conquering chiefs ordain. How they were rank'd, shall rest untold by me, With nameless Nymphs that lived in every tree; Nor how the Dryads, or the woodland train, Disherited, ran howling o'er the plain: Nor how the birds to foreign seats repair'd, Or beasts, that bolted out, and saw the forest bared: 970 Nor how the ground, now clear'd, with ghastly fright Beheld the sudden sun, a stranger to the light.
The straw, as first I said, was laid below; Of chips and sere-wood was the second row; The third of greens, and timber newly fell'd; The fourth high stage the fragrant odours held, And pearls, and precious stones, and rich array; In midst of which, embalm'd, the body lay. The service sung, the maid with mourning eyes The stubble fired; the smouldering flames arise: 980 This office done, she sunk upon the ground; But what she spoke, recover'd from her swound, I want the wit in moving words to dress; But by themselves the tender sex may guess. While the devouring fire was burning fast, Rich jewels in the flame the wealthy cast; And some their shields, and some their lances threw, And gave their warrior's ghost a warrior's due. Full bowls of wine, of honey, milk, and blood Were pour'd upon the pile of burning wood, 990 And hissing flames receive, and hungry lick the food. Then thrice the mounted squadrons ride around The fire, and Arcite's name they thrice resound: Hail, and farewell! they shouted thrice amain, Thrice facing to the left, and thrice they turn'd again: Still as they turn'd, they beat their clattering shields; The women mix their cries; and clamour fills the fields. The warlike wakes continued all the night, And funeral games were play'd at new returning light; Who naked wrestled best, besmear'd with oil, 1000 Or who with gauntlets gave or took the foil, I will not tell you, nor would you attend; But briefly haste to my long story's end.
I pass the rest; the year was fully mourn'd, And Palamon long since to Thebes returned: When, by the Grecians' general consent, At Athens Theseus held his parliament: Among the laws that pass'd, it was decreed, That conquer'd Thebes from bondage should be freed; Reserving homage to the Athenian throne, 1010 To which the sovereign summon'd Palamon. Unknowing of the cause, he took his way, Mournful in mind, and still in black array.
The monarch mounts the throne, and, placed on high, Commands into the court the beauteous Emily: So call'd, she came; the senate rose, and paid Becoming reverence to the royal maid. And first, soft whispers through the assembly went; With silent wonder then they watch'd the event: All hush'd, the king arose with awful grace, 1020 Deep thought was in his breast, and counsel in his face. At length he sigh'd; and having first prepared The attentive audience, thus his will declared:
The Cause and Spring of motion, from above, Hung down on earth the golden chain of Love: Great was the effect, and high was his intent, When peace among the jarring seeds he sent. Fire, flood, and earth, and air by this were bound, And Love, the common link, the new creation crown'd. The chain still holds; for though the forms decay, 1030 Eternal matter never wears away: The same First Mover certain bounds has placed, How long those perishable forms shall last: Nor can they last beyond the time assign'd By that all-seeing, and all-making mind: Shorten their hours they may; for will is free; But never pass the appointed destiny. So men oppress'd, when weary of their breath, Throw off the burden, and suborn their death. Then since those forms begin, and have their end, 1040 On some unalter'd cause they sure depend: Parts of the whole are we; but God the whole; Who gives us life, and animating soul. For nature cannot from a part derive That being, which the whole can only give: He perfect, stable; but imperfect we, Subject to change, and different in degree; Plants, beasts, and man; and as our organs are, We more or less of his perfection share. But by a long descent, the ethereal fire 1050 Corrupts; and forms, the mortal part, expire: As he withdraws his virtue, so they pass, And the same matter makes another mass: This law the Omniscient Power was pleased to give, That every kind should by succession live: That individuals die, His will ordains; The propagated species still remains. The monarch oak, the patriarch of the trees, Shoots rising up, and spreads by slow degrees; Three centuries he grows, and three he stays, 1060 Supreme in state, and in three more decays: So wears the paving pebble in the street, And towns and towers their fatal periods meet: So rivers, rapid once, now naked lie, Forsaken of their springs; and leave their channels dry. So man, at first a drop, dilates with heat, Then, form'd, the little heart begins to beat; Secret he feeds, unknowing in the cell; At length, for hatching ripe, he breaks the shell, And struggles into breath, and cries for aid; 1070 Then, helpless, in his mother's lap is laid: He creeps, he walks, and issuing into man, Grudges their life, from whence his own began: Reckless of laws, affects to rule alone, Anxious to reign, and restless on the throne: First vegetive, then feels, and reasons last; Rich of three souls, and lives all three to waste. Some thus; but thousands more in flower of age: For few arrive to run the latter stage. Sunk in the first, in battle some are slain, 1080 And others whelm'd beneath the stormy main. What makes all this, but Jupiter the king, At whose command we perish, and we spring? Then 'tis our best, since thus ordain'd to die, To make a virtue of necessity. Take what he gives, since to rebel is vain; The bad grows better, which we well sustain; And could we choose the time, and choose aright, 'Tis best to die, our honour at the height. When we have done our ancestors no shame, 1090 But served our friends, and well secured our fame; Then should we wish our happy life to close, And leave no more for fortune to dispose: So should we make our death a glad relief From future shame, from sickness, and from grief: Enjoying while we live the present hour, And dying in our excellence and flower. Then round our death-bed every friend should run, And joyous of our conquest early won: While the malicious world with envious tears 1100 Should grudge our happy end, and wish it theirs. Since then our Arcite is with honour dead, Why should we mourn, that he so soon is freed, Or call untimely, what the gods decreed? With grief as just, a friend may be deplored From a foul prison to free air restored. Ought he to thank his kinsman or his wife, Could tears recall him into wretched life? Their sorrow hurts themselves; on him is lost; And worse than both, offends his happy ghost. 1110 What then remains, but, after past annoy, To take the good vicissitude of joy? To thank the gracious gods for what they give, Possess our souls, and while we live, to live? Ordain we then two sorrows to combine, And in one point the extremes of grief to join; That thence resulting joy may be renew'd, As jarring notes in harmony conclude. Then I propose that Palamon shall be In marriage join'd with beauteous Emily; 1120 For which already I have gain'd the assent Of my free people in full parliament. Long love to her has borne the faithful knight, And well deserved, had fortune done him right: 'Tis time to mend her fault; since Emily By Arcite's death from former vows is free: If you, fair sister, ratify the accord, And take him for your husband, and your lord, 'Tis no dishonour to confer your grace On one descended from a royal race: 1130 And were he less, yet years of service past, From grateful souls exact reward at last: Pity is Heaven's and yours; nor can she find A throne so soft as in a woman's mind. He said; she blush'd; and as o'er-awed by might, Seem'd to give Theseus what she gave the knight. Then turning to the Theban thus he said: Small arguments are needful to persuade Your temper to comply with my command; And speaking thus, he gave Emilia's hand. 1140 Smiled Venus, to behold her own true knight Obtain the conquest, though he lost the fight; And bless'd with nuptial bliss the sweet laborious night. Eros, and Anteros, on either side, One fired the bridegroom, and one warm'd the bride; And long-attending Hymen from above, Shower'd on the bed the whole Idalian grove. All of a tenor was their after-life, No day discolour'd with domestic strife; No jealousy, but mutual truth believed, 1150 Secure repose, and kindness undeceived. Thus Heaven, beyond the compass of his thought, Sent him the blessing he so dearly bought.